Microsoft Corp has unveiled a host of business intelligence enhancements for its Office 12 desktop applications suite, including a new scorecarding tool, which will integrate with its forthcoming SQL Server 2005 database system.
In a web conference, Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, revealed new BI features that have been built into Office 12’s Excel and SharePoint applications.
The company promised a more dynamic version of Excel, including a significantly beefed-up analysis capacity for SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services OLAP component, adding better sorting, filtering, pivoting, and data visualization capabilities in its PivotTables and PivotCharts tools.
Raikes said the goal is to make Excel, already a popular analysis interface, more accessible to business users
Office 12 also enhances server-side Excel-like analysis services for the SharePoint portal and collaboration environment, allowing for easier dissemination, sharing and management of spreadsheets via the web. Raikes said that SharePoint is also being updated in Office 12 to allow users to more easily construct personalized dashboards and search across BI reports and spreadsheets.
The most significant part of the release however is a new server-based scorecarding product called Business Scorecard Manager which uses both Microsoft Office and SQL Server technologies to track and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) against corporate goals in a collaborative setting.
All of these features are aimed at making it easier for corporate users to connect to databases and enterprise data sources from familiar Office environments and at the same time provide them with a secure and managed environment for sharing BI information.
Microsoft will formally launch SQL Server 2005 on November 7. Office 12, which is the codename for Microsoft’s new personal productivity suite, is expected to ship sometime next year.
Business Scorecard Manager will be released on November 1 and is being priced separately as a $5,000 for the server package, plus a $175 per user fee. Raikes claims this is a fraction of the cost of similar scorecarding applications offered by other BI vendors in the market.
The new BI features tap into the infrastructural BI capabilities promised in the next release of SQL Server database which lay the foundation for OLAP analysis, enterprise reporting, data warehousing and data integration.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft has made no secret of its desire to bump up the BI capabilities of Office as part of a strategy to transform its ubiquitous suite beyond just a personal productivity and desktop collaboration suite for knowledge workers.
While Excel is regarded as the analysis and reporting interface of choice for many corporate users, what’s been lacking is a management environment to bump it up to an enterprise-level BI solution.
Microsoft however still has its work cut out trying to break this perception and convince the market that it’s up to the task. Part of the problem has been getting corporate users to upgrade to newer Office versions to take benefit of the new built-in BI features. Many users see older versions of Office as being functionally competent for their needs.
Microsoft is hoping that the new BI functionality will provide a reason for more customers to upgrade than in the past.
Office, which consists of Word, Excel and PowerPoint has been one of Microsoft’s best selling products and boasts a 70-plus% margin which is only bettered by its Windows operating system. But growth slipped last year by 3% to $11bn and only an estimated 25% of companies are running the latest release.
Of course whenever Microsoft barks in BI, everyone else seems to jump. Anticipating the release, rival BI firm Business Objects SA was quick to respond to the announcement.
Rene Bonvanie, chief marketing officer for the Paris-based firm said in an email response: This is our market, and Business Objects is orders of magnitude larger, even on Microsoft’s own platform.
Bonvanie also suggested that Microsoft’s brand of BI still lags behind Business Objects’ offerings, calling it mediocre.
Customers run their businesses on BI and having just ‘good enough’ products isn’t enough, he said. It’s taken us 15-plus years to get people to trust the numbers [Business Objects’] software gives them.
Microsoft’s deeper foray into BI could also strain long-standing technology partnerships with major BI vendors.
Nevertheless Bonvanie said that Business Objects expects to continue to sign new sales and marketing agreement with Microsoft. But there’s no masking the fact that the more Microsoft ramps up its BI functionality, more it competes directly against Business Objects and other BI vendors like Cognos Inc and Hyperion Solutions Corp.
But Microsoft doesn’t necessarily see its partnerships under threat, saying that partners can still benefit from the new BI additions by adding value-add of their own. Indeed most BI vendors already developed Office add-ins as part of their BI offerings.